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Journalism organizations call for greater transparency

Last week, The Association of Health Care Journalists, along with IRE and five other journalism and open-government groups, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for the release of public information about the country's food stamp program. From the AHCJ blog: 

Currently, the USDA refuses to reveal how much money individual retailers make from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Additionally, the USDA does not disclose which products are purchased with SNAP dollars or how much is spent on each product, in aggregate.

The USDA’s position runs contrary to President Obama’s promise of government transparency, and stands in sharp contrast with practices at other federal agencies. For example, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families discloses where recipients used their EBT cards to withdraw cash assistance. A wealth of information is available about Medicare and Medicaid.

“With any federal program, but especially one as large as SNAP, records should be public unless there is a compelling reason to hide them,” said the letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, signed by AHCJ president Charles Ornstein and leaders of  the Association of Food Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the National Association of Science Writers, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Also this week, the Society of Environmental Journalists is calling for greater transparency within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The SEJ writes that the Obama administration has been far from transparent with the press and that the EPA is among the most opaque of agencies

"Reporters who have covered the EPA for several decades say the agency was far more media-friendly and open prior to 2000," according to the SEJ. "But media policies were substantially eroded during the administration of George W. Bush, and they’ve only gotten worse under President Obama.

...

"SEJ calls on the administration to streamline the handling of information and interview requests, and to allow more open and direct access to administrators, policymakers and the scientists whose research guides government decisions. We also urge EPA, Interior and  Energy department administrators to hold regular news conferences, both in person and via conference call, to answer reporters’ questions on all topics."

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